CONCACAF expansion moves into high gear at Gold Cup
By Andrew Downie
June 12 (Reuters) - The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) will be fervently hoping that its new expanded Gold Cup can provide a boost for soccer in the region after a difficult few years.
CONCACAF was at the centre of the FIFA corruption scandal, with two former presidents found guilty and other top-level officials banned from football.
Now under new management, the association has introduced a Nations League designed to give its smaller members more competitive games and has expanded the Gold Cup, its blue riband tournament which kicks off on June 15, to 16 teams.
"This Gold Cup is a statement on the growth of our Confederation," president Victor Montagliani told Concacaf.com.
"In a very short time not only have we expanded the tournament to 16 teams, based on the quality that a lot of our countries have shown in the last few years, but also we’re taking it outside of North America for the first time to Costa Rica and to Jamaica. Those are significant steps."
The strategy has been welcomed by smaller nations in the 41- member confederation, who now have more competitive games as well as a greater chance of qualifying for the Gold Cup finals.
But questions remain, particularly about the confederation’s lack of transparency.
CONCACAF announced the groups for the Gold Cup finals rather than draw them in the traditional style, and the expanded tournament is expected to produce more mismatches, prompting potential questions about its credibility.
One of the Gold Cup groups contains Martinique, a nation that is not even a member of FIFA. Another has four teams, none of which make the world’s top 50.
Nevertheless, for the top sides this Gold Cup offers a chance of redemption.
Host nation the United States failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup, the first time they had missed out since 1986, and will be desperate to add another Gold Cup to the six already in their trophy cabinet.
Mexico also have something to prove under new coach Gerardo Martino, especially with a young side missing many of their top names.
Canada will want to show it deserves the honour of being co-host of the 2026 World Cup, while Jamaica and Costa Rica, who also host Gold Cup games as the tournament expands to a co-hosting model for the first time, have their home fans to keep happy.
"It’s also a big commitment to take the Gold Cup outside of North America, so we can be closer to our fans in Central America, taking games to Costa Rica, to the Caribbean in Jamaica," CONCACAF General Secretary Philippe Moggio said.
"So overall we think it’s going to be a very successful event."
(Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond)